The hummingbirds that flit about gardens in the Upper Midwest are not year-round residents, but rather warmth-seeking birds that spend their winters in Mexico, Central America and South America. Many species migrate into the United States and Canada to nest and breed, and the migrating birds arrive in Wisconsin in spring. After their breeding season is over, they head south again, leaving Wisconsin by early fall.
Species in Wisconsin
The species of hummingbird most often seen in Wisconsin is the ruby-throated hummingbird. It is the only hummingbird species that nests in the eastern part of the United States, and its summertime nesting range extends east of the Mississippi River all the way from the Gulf of Mexico Coast to southern Canada. Ruby-throated hummingbirds build their nests in wooded areas, but they roam in search of food and visit hummingbird feeders throughout the summer months.
Some other species of hummingbirds may make an appearance in Wisconsin as they migrate toward their winter homes. The rufous hummingbird nests in the Pacific Northwest of the United States and western Canada, and it ranges farther north than any other hummingbird species, sometimes nesting as far north as southern Alaska. The species' typical migratory track keeps it west of the Rocky Mountains as it moves toward its winter home in Mexico. Some rufous hummingbirds, however, winter in Florida and other Gulf Coast states, and their path toward that range carries them east of the Rockies and sometimes into Wisconsin.
Spring Appearance in Wisconsin
Ruby-throated hummingbirds begin to move northward in late winter or early spring. They typically reach the Gulf Coast in late February or early March and have usually made it to the Midwest by the first half of April. They arrive in Wisconsin by mid-April and have spread throughout the state, including its northern reaches, by the middle of May. So gardeners who want to be ready to greet the birds should have hummingbird feeders in place early in April.
After the mating season is over in midsummer, adult male hummingbirds begin to head southward, and females and juveniles follow in late summer, once the young birds are able to make the trip. Southbound hummingbird traffic peaks in Wisconsin in August and September, and these months are busy times at hummingbird feeders. Most Wisconsin gardeners take down their hummingbird feeders in the first half of October, after most of the ruby-throated hummingbirds are gone.
Late migrants, however, may take advantage of feeders into early winter. Rufous hummingbirds have been spotted in Wisconsin as late as December, and the availability of feeders may help the birds survive the cold trip to their winter homes in the Southeast.